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Riding the Tails of Apparel Retailers

Department and specialty retailers now see the value in RFID-tagging and tracking a wide range of items, including cosmetics, electronics, furniture, homeware, office products and sporting goods.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jan 11, 2016

Anyone following the radio frequency identification industry is likely aware that major retailers in Europe, North America and South America are embracing the technology to track and manage apparel and footwear, to improve inventory accuracy and provide customers with an omnichannel anytime, anywhere shopping experience. "Apparel is a proven use case" for ultrahigh-frequency RFID, says Bill Hardgrave, dean of Auburn University's Harbert College of Business, founder of the RFID Research Center and a retail columnist for RFID Journal magazine. "We've done apparel long enough to know where the benefits are, and it's a relatively easy product to tag—it's RF-friendly and not onerous to figure out where to put the tag."

Less well known is the fact that department and specialty retailers are turning to RFID to manage nonapparel items—from cosmetics to furniture and sporting goods—and the benefits in these categories could prove more substantial. Hardgrave cites cosmetics, for example, as a very high-shrink item, much more so than many products in the apparel category. In fact, black mascara is the biggest headache, says a VP of loss prevention at a major drugstore chain, who has discussed Checkpoint Systems' merchandise availability solutions with Su Doyle, head of that vendor's RFID industry programs. "It's a top 10 high-theft item in stores—small, easy to conceal and easy to resell on the gray market," Doyle says.

Illustration: iStockphoto/RFID Journal
Some retailers have conducted pilots to track health and beauty items, as well as ink cartridges and other office supplies. And more are considering it, Hardgrave says. "We have talked about some of those categories with retailers, and we will see retailers outside of what you may think of as apparel doing some interesting things with RFID," he says. "And once one or two larger retailers go, others will take notice and follow."

In another sector, sporting goods retailers that first began using RFID to manage seasonal items such as ski jackets and bathing suits—in which the need to keep the right assortment of products in stock for winter, spring, summer or fall activities is critical—are extending that mindset to sports equipment, because seasonality also drives inventory, Doyle says. Mammoth Outdoor Sports, in California, uses RFID technology to merge its Internet and retail store inventories, and to get a daily report showing which products are at its warehouse and stores or at exhibitions. Decathlon, a French sporting goods manufacturer and retailer with 700 stores in 18 countries, has also jumped on the RFID bandwagon.

Department stores that have had success RFID-tracking select apparel items now want to extend their deployments to more apparel categories—and to other merchandise. "Some leading department stores want to get to 100 percent of their store inventory being tagged in the next few years," says Melanie Nuce, VP of apparel and general merchandise at global supply chain standards organization GS1 US.

Target, for example, announced earlier this year that it is adopting a companywide RFID item-level tagging program, to improve its inventory accuracy and enhance its ability to keep stores well stocked. The retailer has begun RFID-tagging select products— specifically, men's basics and women's denim and swimwear—at stores in the Minneapolis area, according to a Target spokesperson.

Beginning in the first quarter of 2016, Target plans to take the technology chainwide and expand it to include all women's ready-to-wear apparel, kids and baby apparel, and athletic wear—and soft home goods such as towels, linens and pillows. (The company has plans for additional category rollouts but doesn't have details to share yet.) "We're starting with these areas because guests love our style offerings, and because they are popular order pickup items [buy-online-pickup-in-store]," the spokesperson says.

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